Wauwatosa takes big renewable step with solar energy array

By: - July 20, 2022 6:29 am
Wauwatosa's solar array. (Photo courtesy of Incus Media)

Wauwatosa’s solar array. (Photo courtesy of Incus Media)

Major renewable energy strides are being made by the city of Wauwatosa. Last year, the city installed a solar panel array on the roof of its city hall complex. In its first year the optimized PV system supplied by inverter manufacturer SolarEdge, produced 458,011 kWh of energy. That’s equivalent to 55% of the city complex’s total usage during that period, reducing carbon emissions by 358 tons. Wauwatosa has pledged to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2030, and eliminate them entirely by 2050.

Twelve years ago in 2010, the city first made a commitment to cut emissions. At the time, NASA research found that 2010 tied 2005 for the warmest year on record. Planning for a clean energy transition took time for the Wauwatosa Common Council. Wauwatosa’s City Hall complex, which also houses a public library, was proposed as a site. Its large size and flat roof seemed ideal for installing a solar panel array. The array type which was decided on had several features, such as a flexible design, and fail-safes if parts of the system under-perform. Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride noted the city has instituted several measures, including utilizing electric vehicles.

The project received a $40,000 Wisconsin Focus on Energy Grant. Installing the array presented several challenges. Because of Wisconsin’s latitude, the solar array’s modules needed to be mounted at a steeper angle than the standard. The system’s flexibility allowed for Wauwatosa’s array to be mounted at 20 degrees, rather than the usual 10 degrees. The system provides real-time data on performance and potential issues to maintenance teams. It also comes with a built-in system which automatically reduces voltage to a safe level when required.

About 45 of the country’s 100 largest cities have pledged to take action on climate mitigation. In June, parts of Wisconsin were struck by severe weather. Heatwaves produced blistering temperatures in the day, resulting in at least two probable heat-related deaths in Milwaukee County. Torrential rain fell in the evenings, resulting in the deaths of a young boy and adults who went into the water to save him. The boy was swept into a drainage ditch as heavy rains fell across the state. A tornado also touched down in Tomah, traveling 15 miles through Monroe County. Local sheriffs reported the storm downed several trees, power lines, and barns. Heavy winds were also felt throughout southeastern Wisconsin. In Madison, large trees were toppled over and uprooted, scattering heavy limbs along neighborhood streets. Tens of thousands of Wisconsinites were left without power. All of this occurred over just a few days.

J.D. Smith, head of business development for Arch Solar C&I, praised Wauwatosa’s move and the system’s advantages. “Being able to optimize energy production was essential to making this project financially viable,” Smith said in a statement. “There are a lot of trees and buildings surrounding the City Hall complex. With a traditional string inverter system, even if just one or two modules are shaded, the performance of the entire sting is reduced. With SolarEdge, even if sections of the array are impaired, the rest of the modules continue to generate power at full capacity.”

This article has been edited for clarification regarding the PV inverters, supplied by SolarEdge.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.